The USS Wasp (CV-7) was ordered for the U.S. Navy on September 19, 1935. Her keel was laid down at Fore River Shipyard on April 1, 1936. She was launched on April 4, 1939 and commissioned on April 25, 1940 under the command of Captain John W. Reeves, Jr.
USS Wasp was the only ship in her class, built to make use of the tonnage remaining to the U.S. Navy from the Washington Naval Treaty. Her first few months were spent in testing and carrier qualifications. She joined the Atlantic Fleet’s Carrier Division 3, Patrol Force, on October 11, 1940 and trained at Guantanamo Bay. Returning to Norfolk on November 26, she remained there through Christmas before heading back to Guantanamo Bay on January 21, 1941 for routine flight operations.
On the night of March 7 and into the early morning of March 8, the USS Wasp rescued the crew of the lumber schooner George E. Klinck as she was sailing north. She continued on to Norfolk for repair work, returning to the Caribbean at the end of the month to pick up supplies. The carrier then headed back to Norfolk for routine flight operations and exercises.
At the beginning of July, USS Wasp sailed with the Atlantic Fleet on neutrality patrol. She then spent a short time training before heading east for the occupation of Iceland as part of Task Force 16. The carrier supplied aircraft from the 33rd Pursuit Squadron to cover the landing of American troops, and she returned home to Norfolk on August 14.
The USS Wasp became the flagship of Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, Commander Cruisers Atlantic Fleet, on August 24. She joined the search for the German cruiser Admiral Hipper, but was unable to find her. Admiral Hewitt shifted his flag to the USS Savannah on September 2, and the USS Wasp returned to neutrality patrol.
Though the crew of USS Wasp was looking forward to a return to the Caribbean at the end of August, the orders came down for all U.S. warships to make their best efforts to destroy any German or Italian warships they found. The carrier found herself in the North Atlantic until mid-October, when she returned to Norfolk and then Bermuda. She was anchored at Grassy Bay when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7.
USS Wasp was one of the ships dispatched to Martinique to ensure that French warships did not attempt to cross the Atlantic and return home to France. She then returned home to Norfolk for a brief overhaul, sailing north to Argentia and Casco Bay in January 1942. As she headed back home with Task Group 22.6 on March 16, she accidentally rammed into the side of the destroyer USS Stack. The destroyer had to proceed to Philadelphia to repair the hole in her starboard side.
On March 26, the USS Wasp sailed for Britain with Task Force 39 in their mission to reinforce the British Home Fleet. While most of her task force sailed with the British Home Fleet to cover convoy routes to Russia, the aircraft carrier headed for Greenock, Scotland. Her mission was to ferry British aircraft to Malta, as the island was under heavy attack from both German and Italian planes. A second ferry mission was required, as the first fighter planes were destroyed by enemy forces. With the second run complete, she headed back to the British Isles on May 10.
Around this time, the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway left only two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean. The USS Wasp quickly returned to Norfolk for repair work before sailing with Task Force 37 on June 6. As the aircraft carrier crossed the Panama Canal, she became the flagship of Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes, Commander Task Force 18.
In early July, the Japanese invaded Guadalcanal, and USS Wasp was assigned to the Support Force meant to provide air support for the American invasion. American forces landed on August 7, and the carrier’s aircraft performed combat air patrol duty. Out of the task force’s 99 fighter planes, 78 remained by the evening of August 8, but the troop landing was a success, and USS Wasp left the area. She went on to patrol and cover operations headed toward the Guadalcanal area.
The USS Wasp was one of two remaining carriers in the Southwest Pacific war zone by September, the other being the USS Hornet. The two carriers were escorting Marine reinforcements to Guadalcanal on September 15 when three torpedoes struck the USS Wasp, one of them above the waterline. A series of explosions set off a number of fires in the hangar and below decks. The order came to “abandon ship,” and it took 40 minutes before the captain was satisfied that no one was left behind. Other ships from the task force embarked the 1,946 survivors before the USS Lansdowne’s torpedoes sank the carrier. The USS Wasp earned two battle stars for her service in World War II.
Like virtually every other ship of her time, the USS Wasp was constructed using many asbestos-containing materials. The toxic substance asbestos was prized for its resistance to heat, water, fire, and corrosion, so it was used in nearly all areas of the ship and in the aircraft she carried. Anyone who served aboard the USS Wasp or was involved in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing life-threatening asbestos-related illnesses like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer that attacks the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.
USS Wasp workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma. Anyone who worked on or around the USS Wasp, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.